Buddy Betts didn’t see himself as a future coach back in his playing days at Hilo High. Besides, he just assumed Don Memmer was going to keep roaming the sidelines forever.
But when Memmer finally stepped down as the face of the Vikings’ boys soccer program after last season, Betts was more than ready to take over for his former coach.
“Memmer leaving, never thought that was going to happen,” Betts said Saturday at the Volcano International Soccer Tournament. “But I figured who else better than myself to take over the program? I have that Viking blood in me, that feeling.”
Betts got a chance to catch an early glimpse of some of his new players in action during a 0-0 draw in an under-19 match against North Hawaii I at Hilo Bayfront. Hilo had more scoring opportunities in the contest, outshooting the Honokaa team 14-8. A pair of players that Betts won’t be able to turn to next season in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, 2012 graduates Jonathan Perez and Mikah Hatcher, helped create the balance of those chances.
Betts has seen the soccer landscape on the Big Island change for the better since he graduated from Hilo in 1996.
“Back then, soccer wasn’t as big as it is now; we didn’t have summer leagues,” Betts said. “In Honolulu they’ve been doing this, practicing with their high school year-round.”
Volcano marks the end of the summer American Youth Soccer Organization season, and Betts hopes it will provide a boost for a Vikings program looking to rebound after it missed out on a Hawaii High School Athletic Association berth last year for the first time in four seasons. And for any BIIF Division I boys and girls teams that have reached states recently, it’s usually been a short trip.
“For us to get a chance to do this is a step in the right direction for us to be competitive,” he said. “When I used to play soccer, we wouldn’t see each other until high school. By the end of the season we’d get that chemistry going, but it’s too late, already. This is a chance to get chemistry down and figure who’s who.”
If Betts was looking for a blueprint on how to build a program, all he needed to do was look across the field.
While Betts treated the tournament as good experience gained, coach Maurice Miranda was evaluating players to plug holes on the two-time Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II champion Dragons.
Miranda said AYSO play helped Honokaa lay the core foundation for its success, producing key players such as midfielders Robert Connors and Chayce Moniz. Honokaa must replace those two along with four other starters next season and 11 seniors in all.
“We’re rebuilding, didn’t you hear?” Miranda said. “Officially we’re rebuilding, but we have a pretty good core, and it looks like we’ve got some young guys coming in that might be able to step up.”
Two of those players, Gavin Laird and Jevin Dement, couldn’t quite capitalize from point-blank range during the second half as Honokaa drew the best scoring chance of the match. Goalkeeper Cassidy Dixon, who’s transferring to Honokaa from Hawaii Academy of Arts & Sciences, stopped seven shots.
Miranda brought two squads to the tournament. Recent Honokaa High graduates and the younger players were matched on one team, while North Hawaii I had the look of the 2013 Dragons, including returning players Nino Quijano, Clayton Robinson, Tony Connors, Pedro Sanches and Seanry Agbayani, along with freshmen Zechariah Ugalde and Kyle Ohta.
While Miranda thinks it’s the younger players’ time to contribute, he expects the veterans to take leading roles, especially Connors, who Honokaa hopes to transition from fullback to the midfield.
“He’s been a piano mover for two years,” Miranda said, “but he’s ready to be a piano player.”
If Laird wins the sweeper job, one of three holes Honokaa must fill on the backline, that will allow the 6-foot-3 Sanches to replace Dylan Shiraki and join Justin Warren up top at forward.
Still, finding midfielders is key so that Honokaa can utilize a 3-5-2 alignment that’s dominated possession and given opponents fits recently. That’s where Quijano and Robinson fit in.
“Nino and Clayton will take over where Chayce Moniz and Robert Connors left off: as the heart and soul of our team.”
Kinohi Betts, the coach’s son, stopped all four shots Honokaa put on goal Saturday, and sophomore Rayce Takayesu led Hilo’s defensive effort.
Still trying to master all of his players’ names, Buddy Betts promised two things from the Vikings in 2013: fun and fast pace.
“We’re going to be a possession-style soccer team with speed and heart,” he said. “We’re going to be explosive; that’s what we’re going to try to bring to the game.”
The tournament concludes today, with the U19 boys consolation game at 9 a.m. followed by the girls and boys title matches at 10:30 a.m. and noon, respectively.